That's right people! It's Thursday and it's done. I'm posting it b/c you can now respond and I can actually make changes before the people of God have to hear it. Also, my ending (as per usual) is quite weak. Suggestions would be appreciated.
So, I’ve started this new diet—or life-style change. And one of the “rules” is that you strictly follow the guidelines for six days and on the seventh day, you get a “free day,” no rules whatsoever. Taking full advantage of that day, I normally eat as many calories on Sunday as I do on all the other days combined. And although I look forward to my chocolate chip cookie with frosting on top all week, once the day begins, it’s not always such a good one. I know I have the freedom to keep eating—so I do, and then I get really, really sick. And it takes me until Thursday to lose back everything that I had lost the previous week; and I spend the whole day praying for it to be finished so the rules can take over and I can start behaving like a normal human being again. Maybe I should actually read Scripture a little more often—because if I did, I would hear “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…” and I would add, because it will make you throw up.
We normally think of freedom as something that’s entirely positive…as something we long for and desire. But, once you’ve got it, it’s really hard work. Not only in the diet world, but the real one as well. Inmates freed from prison often have an extremely difficult time making it on the “outside.” Slaves, freed during the Civil War, found no more open doors or open hearts than they did when they were living on plantations.
Once your world opens up, and there are all these choices and decisions to be made in front of you, the narrow path of being bound, often seems much more appealing. I really think that’s why the more fundamental mega-churches are thriving—you go to church on a Sunday morning, the pastor tells you what to think, who to love, what not to do, and the world is suddenly black and white, good and bad, right and wrong…and the days are much more structures, much more focused, and rarely send you to bed with a stomach-ache.
But Jesus really isn’t into black and white—he’s in love with color—with the world opening, heart-expanding hews of the rainbow. And even though he knows looking at the world through his eyes isn’t easier, he definitely finds it a whole lot more life-giving. So, since we’re Jesus followers—and this whole season of Pentecost is about trying to discover what it means to be a Jesus follower—what does freedom mean for us?
First of all—holy cow, here’s my three points in a sermon—oh well. First of all, we follow a God who journeys to a cross and dies. Which probably means that being a Jesus follower won’t always lead us to a happy, easy life. So, if you’re going to stay on this road, plan on getting sick, laughed at, ridiculed, or even killed along the way. And, if that doesn’t scare you away…and don’t let it, because what’s on the other side is way better than what you’ve got now--the good news is that through that death on the cross, is this amazing new life—a life where God promises to meet us; a life where there are these grace-filled, mercy-abundant, wholly unexpected encounters with the God who is leading us. There is this life that promises in the midst of it all—death will not be the final answer. The good news is…is that we are held captive to nothing—not to our own successes, not to our failures, not to our wants, or needs or desires…but our chains have been broken and we are free…free to live following Jesus. We are free to focus on what really matters in this life—and it’s not losing weight or planning parties or going to work or even burying your dead. What really matters is Jesus…what really matters is living this brand new life that he gives.
And living in that freedom brings me to point number two—as freed ones, you do what Jesus does—you love your neighbor. And this is not the black and white rules of loving those who think like you or act like you or you love you too. Loving your neighbor, very well might mean, breaking every rule you’ve ever heard—kind of like Jesus does. Loving your neighbor means stepping outside those boundaries you’ve made and touching someone who makes you cringe. Loving your neighbor means taking pancakes across town, even if they can give you nothing in return; it means seeing a man with a cardboard sign on the side of the road and not instantly thinking he’s a drug user, or it’s knowing he’s a drug-user and giving him some food anyway. Loving your neighbor means living out of that difficult, rule-breaking, make-you-sick kind of freedom…it means seeing a world full of color…really it means following Jesus.
Which brings me to point number three—let’s see that sigh of relief—and it’s more of a command. You are freed ones, your life is found through the cross, and each morning when you awake, I challenge you to say…”Today I’m a Jesus follower; today the world is full of color; today my chains are unlocked, my boundaries are blurred…and gosh darn it, I’m going to serve my neighbor.”